Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12

James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12
James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 Matt White on guitar @James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12 James Morrison: De Montfort Hall, Leicester 6/2/12

The clue was there for all to hear. As the capacity crowd waited for James to walk onto the stage to join his band, we heard vintage Stevie Wonder through the PA. Within seconds of the starâs exit stage right, we get Al Greenâs dulcet tones.

Morrison may be billed as the housewives favourite pop pin-up and love song balladeer, but thereâs a shed load more to him than that. Credit where credit is due.

I admit I have not been a major fan of his music. I had my curiosity pricked by his smash hit debut single, âYou Give Me Something,â and bought his debut album for a Christmas present. But was only mildly impressed with the CD and with his output after that. I have always felt that while he is a solid writer, his material lacked depth and was emotionally half empty. Harmless, throw-away pop. Until now. It would be impossible to be too complimentary about his vocal ability, from this gig. I was knocked out by how bloody soulful he is live. He has Stevieâs innate phrasing in his blood stream. He has Otis Reddingâs sweetness. He has that throaty rasp from Terence Trent Dâarby. He has the rockinâ Lenny Kravitz side of things pinned down. He is a solid soul man.

Name me another white British male vocalist who has soul chops like this kid? You canât, because there isnât one, is there? Perhaps heâs Dustyâs long lost, secret love (grand) child? âJames in Memphis.â Thereâs a thought...

But more importantly, the writing has matured and is now hand in glove and up there in standard with his soul vocals. Giving us nine of the 13 tracks from his album, in this 17 song set, the crafting on âThe Awakeningâ is impressive stuff. Very. Interesting that he did not plug the album once, and his between-song verbals were kept to a bare minimum.

He has come under fire in the past for lacking personality on stage. I prefer the low key, boy next door, ânot sure how I got here, but gonna make the most of itâ approach, to the slick, over-rehearsed âWe love you London,â soup in the basket, cabaret patter of some artists. Heâs a singer, not a magician.

It is all about the music after all, and James clearly prefers to let his music do the talking for him. He was relaxed, in good voice on 99.9% of the 90 minute set, a tad pitchy twice. On âThe Awakening," his voice faltered in the intro and I wondered if those 40-a day fags and that consistent gravely delivery, have taken their toll on his larynx this tour. We got four tracks from âUndiscoveredâ and three from âSongs For You, Truths For Me.â Just the one cover.

James Morrison Catchpole. 27. Born in Rugby, lived in Northampton and Derby, where he played the pubs and open mike nights, ignored requests for âHotel Californiaâ by night, while washing vans by day. A talent scout put him in front of a major label, and he got signed there and then.

All three are towns on Leicesterâs doorstep, and he had local family and friends in tonight. His Mother and sister both went to Leicester Uni, and he has cousins who still live there. His Midlands accent was at home here. Dressed in black jacket, tight black jeans and white tee shirt, wearing a silver necklace and playing acoustic guitar. Stripping down to tee shirt sent the ladies wild, and probably a few men too! Not meâ¦â¦..

Loudest squeals of the night came after he stands with his back to the audience and throws an Elvis shape - legs wide apart, acoustic guitar strapped to his front, rocking side to side with his guitar, strutting his stuff.

James has big balls. Seven of them, and he hangs âem on stage for all to see! The stage was dressed like a Victorian ballroom, with red velvet drapes and these seven giant lit sphericals suspended from the âceiling.â Looking like massive balls of rubber bands. Plus a giant mirror ball, sending beams of light across the stage and out into the Gods. Iâd like a pint of what the stage designer is drinking please. A tight seven-piece band with him. Richard Milner on B3 Hammond, stage left. Two female backing vocalists Bev Brown and Sara Jane Skeet in front of him. Guitarist Matt White using a retro Vox AC30 valve amp, next to drummer Neal Wilkinson. Other side we had bassist Matt Round and in front of him, Richard Cardwell on keyboards and backing vocals. A bloke called James at the front on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, stood on trademark oblong rug at mike stand with guitar most of the night. The occasional hip shakes too.

We got sing-a-long-a James when he sang his big hits: âBroken Strings,â âUp,â âYou Give Me Somethingâ and the opener, âBeautiful Life.â He follows the first song in the set with âThis Boy,â which he wrote for his Mum. Shouts of âI love you Jamesâ peppered the whole 90 minutes, and at first he took it in his stride and made light of it, telling us âonly drunks would say thatâ to him. But, during the slow-tempo, quiet intros to ballads, you could almost hear his mind screaming out, âPlease give me a break.â

He is far too polite to say that out loud, but I am not. It was very annoying. I think perhaps he stole 50% of the more mature end of Peter Andreâs fan base for the night. Predominantly a female audience, and it did resemble an HRT support group, but there were young uns enjoying the gig too.

He let us into his world with the tale of a recent first. His little daughter Elsie, almost four now, was seeing her very first James Morrison show. âIs that my Daddy,â she asked, pointing to the stage. But she got âfreakedâ by the crowdâs screams and applause, and cried her little eyes out. Critics do start young these days, donât they?
James tells us his song "One Life,â is Elsieâs favourite, which she has re-named âBaby Girl." So he calls it that too now. Ahhhhhh. Not a dry eye in the house. So, that was the MILFs sorted and making their way to the stage-door, pronto then.

I think perhaps he is all loved up now. As a premature newborn, he had whooping cough and âdied,â resuscitated four times. It left him a weak child with a husky voice. After a tough childhood with fighting parents, and then an absent alcoholic father who ended up in a squat, hard schooldays and moving around the country a lot, he is finally settled and seems at peace in his world.

In a good/calm place and that is reflected in his new music. His success has bought him a country pile and home studio in Gloucestershire, a beach house near Brighton and mucho casho in the banko. But he keeps his feet on the ground, and has been known to take a holiday in a Haven holiday park with his family!

In the summer of 2010, his long-term relationship was going through choppy seas, while they got used to being parents. Then his father died of heart failure due to alcoholism. James was hit hard, and stayed in bed for much of the next few weeks, deeply depressed. Grief stricken and crying his heart out. He turned his pain into songs, for his new CD âThe Awakening.â

He was gob smacked when the album - produced by Suede guitarist and Duffy producer Bernard Butler - shot into the charts to the top spot. Old J-Mo has been stuck somewhat in a love song ballads rut on his previous albums. Not any more. Perhaps the oft comparison to sugary sweet James Blunt pissed him off so much at each media interview, he finally got the message and changed his tune. Literally.

On the âBaby Girl,â song tonight, it was if an invisible spirit tore into his inner core. His vocals soared and his runs came from his boots. Putting me in mind of seeing Aretha in Milwaukee and Stevie in London, and their God-given abilities that move and evoke a spiritual aspect to their performance. Guitarist Matt White deserves special mention, on this song â and on everything he touched - with beautiful understated chords and soul licks. Always subtle, as was the whole ensemble, providing JM with concrete foundations to shine. He did so with ease.

There was also a real Stax soul vibe on âBy Your Side,â courtesy of the mega talented White on guitar. Cropper-esque brush strokes and deep Memphis flavours. James digging in for some husky Bobby Womack moments.

The hit duet with Jessie J, âUpâ won loud cheers, and saw James joined on stage by none other thanâ¦â¦â¦â¦.. backing singer Sara Jane Skeet, to be JJ for the night. Her vocal was fine, although little chemistry between them, it prompted a masse of cameras going âup,â to capture the moment for You Tube saturation no doubt.

On song seven of the set, we get the Nelly Furtado duet, âBroken Strings,â â no stand-in duet partner this time - which suffered a slightly pitchy vocal intro. I suspect he was having an in ear monitor moment, as James is usually pitch perfect. This was just piano, guitar and James on vocal and acoustic guitar. Oh, plus the audience singing almost every line. Bless âem.

One of the highlights in the set, was âSlave To The Music.â James explains that one night when he was âhigh/drunkâ he imagined Michael Jackson in the room asking him for a song. So he wrote this one in memory of Jackson. His falsetto impression of Jacko (or was it Mickey Mouse?) in the explanation, was spot on and funny. But the song is no laughing matter.

It is a brilliant slice of funk where the band really locked in. It has Number One written all over it, if it was ever to be a single. Iâd suggest early summer release, for radio to lap it up and for it become a festival favourite. James delivering a rasping vocal. His tee shirts on the merch stand emblazoned with this trackâs title, perhaps a clue that it is destined to be a single? If Michael had ever heard it, I think heâd have wanted to cut it. Bet many others will in years to come.

His lone cover of the night is a cracker. Spencer Davisâ Groupâs âIâm A Man,â where James gets close to matching Winwood in the vocal stakes. Clever choice of cover and works well for him. They moved into that song straight from, âNothing Ever Hurt Like You,â when James is Marvin in Grapevine style. A sensational vocal from anyone, but from a scruffy, chain-smoking white boy from Rugby? This was a stunning song.

Thereâs lovely gospel piano on âPrecious Love,â with vintage Stevie phrasing once again on the vocals. Drummer right on it, as he was all night.

He delivers his big hit âYou Give Me Somethingâ in fine form, which features yet another very tasty guitar solo, with some sweet soul licks. The track sits on a bed of lush sampled strings. James and the band then leave the stage, to deserved calls for more.

He returns to perform the title track from his new CD âThe Awakening,â where his voice did falter and crack a little at times. The track has a gorgeous, slinky, psychedelic, almost Sgt Peppers vibe. He and the band weave a tapestry of emotion and sheer retro bliss. Then we get âUnder The Influence,â a perfect follow up to the previous song, as this is on a similar hippy tip, with spine-tingling vocal phrasing.

Final song âWonderful World,â before the band and James all link up for a US style bow to their rapturous audience, James towel draped round his neck before lobbing it to the crowd to scrum for, to savour this soul boyâs sweat.

I must mention the immaculate sound quality at this show. That venue can cause sound guys major headaches, with sound slapping back off the rear wall, especially drums. I was there recently to cover Thin Lizzy's gig, and the sound was deafening and distorted. Tonight, James got a top result from his production team, and the PA system they use. Bravo.

Some were surprised he was gracing the front cover of October/Novemberâs Blues & Soul magazine, and maybe they could not get past Jamesâ pop pedigree. Well, I have news for them. It is now quite certain, this magazine is his rightful home as the very best white soul singer (with testicles) this country has produced to date. He is welcome here anytime, and has more than earned his place with a voice like that. You Give Me Something indeed.


â¨â¨Beautiful Life | This Boy | In My Dreams | Say Something Now | Up | By Your Side | Broken Strings | All Around The World | Slave To The Music | Nothing Ever Hurt Like You â into Iâm A Man | One Life | Precious Love | You Give Me Something | The Awakening | Under the Influence | Wonderful World





Photos: Simon Redley

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